IMH supports Naval History & Heritage Command and Supervisor of Salvage, USN

On Wednesday and Thursday, March 16 and 17, the Institute of Maritime History assisted NHHC and Phoenix International Holdings, a SUPSALV contractor, in deploying a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), two types of small, unmanned submarines, to take sonar and video images of the USS Tulip wreck.  Tulip was a US Navy gunboat that sank with heavy loss of life in a boiler explosion in 1864.  IMH is a non-profit society that is based at Tall Timbers Marina and conducts underwater archaeological reconnaissance and research for the Maryland Historical Trust and other agencies.
The river was too rough on Wednesday to safely deploy the ROV.  Thursday was calm, but even at slack high tide the river sediment prevented the ROV from getting good video images.  The AUV obtained excellent high-resolution sonar images of the hull and debris field.  At the end of work on Thursday a memorial service was held on the site, with tulips dropped into the water to commemorate the sailors who died in the tragic sinking.
Dr. George Schwarz was the NHHC archaeologist on the project.  Stephanie Brown was the SUPSALV representative.  Curt Newport, Charlie Kapica and Andy Yockey of Phoenix operated the Seaeye Falcon ROV and the Iver-3-580-3037 AUV.  IMH members Dan Lynberg, Charlie Reid and Dave Howe, and local resident Will Jordan operated the IMH dive boat Roper.  Roper towed a skiff and used her as a work platform to launch and recover the AUV.  On Thursday, Captain Will Gates of the pinnace Maryland Dove at Historic St. Mary’s City joined in the effort. 
In May, Brendan Burke of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program at the St. Augustine (Florida) Lighthouse and Maritime Museum will visit IMH, bringing LAMP’s Klein 3900 sidescan sonar and Marine Magnetics “Explorer” underwater magnetometer.  He and IMH members will spend several days scanning, magging, diving and mapping what appears to be another Civil War shipwreck near USMC Base Quantico VA, and several days on the Tulip.  IMH will dive Tulip only if accompanied by Dr Schwarz or another NHHC underwater archaeologist.  As a federal war grave, Tulip is a sensitive site.  The wreck is also protected from unauthorized disturbance under the Sunken Military Craft Act.  Some artifacts were illegally recovered years ago, were eventually surrendered to the Navy, and have been conserved and curated at NHHC.  In the current operation the site was not touched or disturbed.
USS Tulip was a screw gunboat, 183 tons, length 97’3″, beam 21’9″, depth 9’6″, draft 8′, complement 57, carrying two 24-pounder smoothbore cannons and one 20-pounder Parrott rifle.  She was built at New York City in 1862 and 1863 by Jowett & Company for export to China as the lighthouse tender Chih Kiang, but was purchased by the US Navy on 22 June 1863.
Renamed Tulip and refitted for service as a tug and gunboat, she joined the Potomac River Flotilla in August 1863.  That force patrolled the river, protecting Union waterborne communications between the nation’s capital and the port cities of the divided nation during the Civil War.  She initially performed towing duties at the Washington Navy Yard, and then served with the flotilla in operations against Confederate forces in the Rappahannock.  In the latter duties, the ship carried Federal troops and supported naval landing parties which from time to time went ashore for operations against Confederate traffic across the river.
As she continued this wartime riverine service into 1864, Tulip developed a defective starboard boiler.  Commander Foxhall A. Parker, commanding the Potomac Flotilla, ordered the ship home to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs.  Tulip got underway on 11 November with orders to steam only the port boiler.  Not long after departing from St. Inigoes Creek, St. Mary’s County, Maryland, her engineers, against all orders, began supplying steam to the starboard boiler.  When abreast Ragged Point, the boiler exploded and tore the fragile ship apart, killing 47 men instantly of the 57-man complement.  Of the 10 survivors, two died later as a result of injuries received in the violent explosion which claimed the ship.
The attached photo by Charlie Reid shows Captain Will Gates, Curt Newport, and Andy Yockey preparing to launch the ROV.

revised plan, autumn 2015

It was disappointing to cancel our big fall projects up the Potomac, but we can focus on the Lord Dunmore project instead.  It would be very valuable to Maryland and IMH to find and prove a vessel that was scuttled by Dunmore in the summer of 1776.  That would be the first underwater site dating from the Revolution found in Maryland.  Historical records say between eight and 23 vessels were burned, so we are looking for stone ballast piles and associated debris.

The site is convenient to Tall Timbers and does not present the logistical constraints the Potomac projects posed.  It can be done in stages on weekends, and it offers good ancillary training in boat handling, sidescan operation, and magnetometer operation once we get that puppy to work.

Depths are 10 to 20 feet.  The bottom is hard, and visibility is unusually good by Potomac standards.

Prior scans by Azulmar, LAMP, and IMH with sonar and magnetometer covered about half the target area and disclosed several dozen protruding objects that need to be mapped and assessed, and at least 23 isolated magnetic anomalies that need to be refined, found, and assessed — plus two linear magnetic targets hundreds of yards long.  Those probably are underwater cables, perhaps left from the US Navy torpedo test station that operated in the area from 1941 to 1959, or electrical cables that once powered a lighted aid to navigation.  That speculation needs to be proved or disproved.

So, the revised plan for autumn is to dive and map the Dunmore site every weekend the weather allows, starting this Sunday, 20 September.  (Saturday 19 is out.)  Most weekdays are available too, if we have divers.  The standard plan will be to meet at Tall Timbers at 0830, load up, get underway by 0900, arrive on site and start diving by 1015, secure at 1600, and dock at Tall Timbers at 1715.  Two tanks should be enough.  Roper will carry spare tanks with yoke fittings.  We will anchor or live-boat, depending on location, conditions, and manning.  Mapping will be done by sonar, offsets, and trilateration.  Bring a tape, slate, and lunch, and confirm with me by email or phone (302-222-4721) the day before you come.

summer and fall projects

Our main workboat, Roper, is on loan to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum again this summer.  During June we will set up our second workboat for diving.  She has been named Polly, short for Polynavicular Morbus, the disorder of owning too many boats.  In July and August we will use Polly to continue searching for the vessels that were scuttled at St. George’s Island, Maryland, in late July 1776 by Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia.  Those vessels numbered between eight and 23, depending on which archival sources you like.  We have more than 20 mag and sonar anomalies to investigate in the area.  We will also have dive boat coxswain training and a field school and on-the-job training in low-visibility site mapping.

Roper will come home from Florida during the first week of September.  The rest of September and all of October will be spent mapping what may be a Civil War canal boat, and the remains of a dozen World War One wooden steamships at Widewater, Virginia, across the Potomac from Mallows Bay, Maryland, where more than 150 of their sisters were scrapped.  The Widewater work will end in time for us to return to home port and recover the mooring buoy from the U-1105 Historic Shipwreck Preserve on Hallowe’en.

If you would like to participate in any of these projects please click the “contact” button above and let us know.

Dunmore reprise

During the fall and winter of 2014 and spring of 2015 we will resume our search for any remains of Lord Dunmore’s “Floating City” from 1776.  See attached summary.

Something completely different

The St Mary’s River Watershed Association has asked IMH to lay six to eight mounds of hollow concrete reef balls as part of their oyster restoration project.  Each mound would comprise 31 to 37 balls.  Each  ball weighs about 350 pounds, so that makes approximately 42 tons to move.  We can handle the balls easily with Roper‘s davit, one at a time.  We probably can carry and deploy six or more balls on a trip, so the whole job would take perhaps 40 trips over two weeks — mostly weekdays, some weekends, preferably when the weather is too rough to dive the four lower Potomac shipwreck sites on the current schedule.  We should start on Monday 9 Sep when the Association’s director is available to show us how to do it.

If you would like to participate please click the “contact” button at the top right corner of this webpage.

new boat

The new-to-us skiff is operational and legal.  She will work in shallow waters and decent weather, and can handle four divers with gear — maybe six at most.  26 feet, 20+ knots, 1970 Pacemaker “Alglas” hull, 1996 Chevy 350 engine (straight inboard), center console, extra fuel tanks, all USCG-required gear, VHF, WAAS DGPS, &c.

She needs a name.  Suggestions?